“A boy is a man in miniature, although he may sometimes exhibit notable virtue… he is also schemer, self-seeker, traitor, Judas, crook, and villain – in short, a man.” (Davies 9). The theme of being twice born is prevalent through the novel Fifth Business and is strongly demonstrated by the characters, Dunny, Percy and Paul. All three change their names, deny their past and become what their parents could never have imagined. Consequently, at the end of the novel, the characters come full circle, revealing the same boyhood traits they portrayed years ago and are ‘thrice born’.
To begin, Dunstable Ramsay began in Deptford, and as a result of his relationship with his parents, specifically his mother, Dunny needed to reinvent himself. His first step was to remove himself from Deptford and join the army and it was during the war that Dunstable became born again. In the hospital, Diana decided that Dunstable “…sounds like a cart rumbling over cobblestones…” (Davies 85) so she gave him the name Dunstan. During this time, Dunny also discovers that his parents had passed away during the war, but Dunny says, “I felt the loss so little” (Davies 74).
As a result, all his strong ties to Deptford had been cut. As Paul says at the end of the novel, “I can’t imagine your parents foreseeing that you would become a theorizer of myth and legend… Hard people – especially your mother” (Davies 253) which is true; Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay would never have thought that their son would have become a writer of saints, with a new name, completely different life from his roots in Deptford. Moreover, Liesl says to Dunny, “One always knows the twice born” (Davies 217) and Dunny is clearly in that group.
Similarly, consider Percy Boyd Staunton. Percy never liked the small town and a turning point for him is when he is caught “in the act” with Mable Heighington causing his father to decide to send him to an all boys school, removing Percy from Deptford. His father was a local doctor and entrepreneur, but Percy went far beyond him. At Leola and Percy’s wedding, for example, Dunny states, “Boy had far surpassed his father in ambition and scope. All he needed was time.” (Davies 111). “Boy” was Percy’s new name after the war, “because he summed up in himself so much of the glory of youth in the postwar period.” (Davies 103).
As time passed, Boy became increasingly separated from Deptford. His final ties with his past were severed by the death of his father, as Boy had no reason to look back anymore, only forward, only up. His father would never have imagined what Boy would become, for as Dunny states, “Where his looks and style came from I never knew; certainly not from old Doc Staunton… or from his mother.” (Davies 103). Boy changed his religion, much to the distaste of his family, created an empire from sugar and tried his luck in politics. It is through these changes that Boy becomes twice born.
The final character is Paul Dempster, who denied his past very quickly by running away with the circus during his childhood. Paul states, “I was too young for the kind of guilt my father wanted me to feel… I couldn’t stand it” (Davies 251) so he felt he needed to leave and the circus was his first opportunity. He changed his name to Magnus Eisengrim as part of his magic show. Paul had never been back to Deptford since he left and when Dunny asked if he would like him to tell his mother he was alive, his response was, “She is a part of a past that cannot be recovered or changed by anything that I can do now.” (Davies 139) showing that Paul had completely disassociated himself from his past. He was the son of a Baptist minister, he should have grown up to be an example to everyone else in the town of how a person should be, but he became a magician instead. Paul was “…a poetic magician who took himself seriously.” (Davies 192) with an act like no other. It is clear that as soon as Paul ran away with the circus, he became twice born, but throughout his life, he was followed by the blame for his mothers’ madness.
Finally, by the end of the novel, the characters have come full circle and in a meeting in Dunnys’ office, they discuss the matter of the snowball. Dunny becomes thrice born when he tells the truth about the snowball, relieving a burden that has governed him throughout his life. Dunny has always felt the same boyhood guilt and had finally come to terms with the incident. Paul was also thrice born as when he hears the story, he comes to realize that the blame that was on him as a boy for his mothers’ madness was not truly his. This brings into question, Boy. Did he in fact become thrice born? Any reader would like to believe so, and believe that he killed himself out of guilt, but who can say for sure? He did say, “I wish I could get into a car and drive away from the whole damn thing” (Davies 232) But even as he left, Boy denied remembering the incident of the snowball and said that he did not feel any guilt.
Furthermore as Paul was leaving, he said, “I have everything I need” (Davies 255), was he referring to the story or was he referring to the stone that was in the snowball?In conclusion, the concept of being twice born is the vessel for development of the characters in Fifth Business and is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel. Before the meeting Dunny says, “The cloaks we had wrapped around our essential selves were wearing thin” (Davies 233), suggesting that the concept of ‘twice born’ is not a permanent change but a means to come full circle and revisit their boyhood. During the meeting in Dunnys’ office, Percy says that boys are brutes because they do not know any better, but they grow up to be men, and Dunny replies, “Men who retain something of the brutish boy ” (Davies 254). Boys truly are men in miniature, they can change appearance and their name, but they will always come full circle and realize those brutish boyhood traits in the end.
Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Toronto: The Penguin Group, 1970.